With increasing demand for energy, energy companies are searching for new ways to appropriately manage their resources. One of the many controversial ways is remotely controlling the thermostat control of customers during peak demand for energy. Though it may be seen as a practice which is offensive, you have to understand why it happens, when it has happened recently, and what you can do in preparation for it.

Why Energy Companies Can Control Your Thermostat

Most modern thermostats come with smart technology, which is the technology that allows energy companies to remotely adjust the temperature setting. It’s in the fine print of the terms and conditions of the agreement for your energy service, which you accepted when you signed up.

Remote access allows the energy companies to justify why they want to control thermostats: to relieve stress on the power grid during peak periods of demand, such as extremely hot summer days or bitterly cold winter nights when most households are consuming electricity to cool or heat their homes. By modestly adjusting the temperature in participating homes, power companies collectively reduce energy consumption, thus averting possible blackouts and brownouts.

Thermostat Control | A&T HVAC & Plumbing

Instances of Thermostat Control in Recent Times

In the recent past, there have been several instances when energy companies exercised their right to control the thermostats of their customers:

  1. California, 2022: During a heatwave in September 2022, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) remotely adjusted the thermostats of over 25,000 customers who had enrolled in their SmartAC program. The thermostats were adjusted by a few degrees to reduce energy demand and prevent potential power outages. (Source: Los Angeles Times)
  2. Colorado, 2021: Xcel Energy, a utility company serving Colorado, remotely adjusted the thermostats of thousands of customers enrolled in their AC Rewards program during a heatwave in June 2021. The adjustments were made to help manage the high energy demand. (Source: Denver Post)
  3. Texas, 2021: During the severe winter storm in February 2021, some energy companies in Texas remotely adjusted customers’ thermostats to conserve energy and prevent widespread power outages. This action sparked controversy and criticism from customers who felt their privacy had been violated. (Source: Houston Chronicle)

What to Do if This Happens

While companies have the right to control your thermostat under certain circumstances, here are a couple of things that you can do to at least prepare and maintain control over the temperature of your home:

  • Read the fine print: Make sure to carefully read the terms and conditions of your energy service agreement so you know exactly when and under what circumstances your thermostat can be controlled.
  • Opt-out if possible: Energy companies may offer the option to opt out of remote thermostat control programs. You should check with your provider for options.
  • Manually adjust your thermostat: If your energy company adjusts your thermostat, you can manually override the settings to your preferred temperature. Just know that if you do that, it may increase your energy bills.
  • Look into other sources of energy: Alternative energy sources, such as solar panels or wind turbines, can reduce your reliance on the power grid and reduce the impacts of remote thermostat control.
  • Properly insulate your house: Proper insulation can help reduce excessive heating or cooling in your house, thus reducing the impacts of thermostat adjustments.

How To Prepare

Planning ahead for summer heat waves or winter storms that could lead to the use of energy company-controlled thermostats can ensure that you stay safe. You can use the following steps to prepare ahead of inclement weather:

  • Increase the level of insulation and weatherproofing in your home; it will help maintain a comfortable temperature, reducing the work done by your heater or air conditioner.
  • Install energy-efficient window coverings, including blackout curtains and reflective film on your windows, to reduce direct sunlight and heat during the summer.
  • Consider potential alternative energy sources, like solar panels or wind turbines, to reduce grid dependency.
  • For heat waves, know where nearby cooling centers or other public places are where you could go if your home gets too warm.
  • For winter storms, prepare with plenty of warm clothes, blankets, and emergency supplies, including portable heaters or generators in case your heating system is impaired. Additionally, if you have a wood burning stove or pellet stove make sure you have enough to burn.

Although the idea of energy firms controlling the thermostats may look intrusive, it is imperative to understand the underlying reasons and prepare accordingly so that one has control in their own hands regarding home temperature. Being prepared and informed will help you strike a balance between energy conservation and personal comfort.

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